For many professionals, marketing is largely the practice of building relationships that support customer engagement. Yet one line of thinking suggests customer engagement should be a practice unto itself. Altimeter principal analyst Brian Solis recently raised this point when he wrote that customers never “seek out” marketing campaigns. Instead, they look for “information, direction and someone to trust.” The brand that provides clear answers earns their loyalty.
Perhaps this was a philosophical distinction in the early days of online marketing, but the growth of real-time data tracking technologies has made it far more relevant and practical today. We can now deliver personalized messaging to individual customers and measure responses better than ever before, but these metrics don’t necessarily make engagement the core priority. At a minimum, real-time customer engagement requires customer centricity, even when using real-time marketing tools.
So what exactly does that distinction look like? And how do marketers craft real-time customer engagement strategies?
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What is real-time marketing?
Real-Time marketing is an on-the-fly tactic that attempts to deliver the best possible offer to make a sale. At one time, real-time marketing strategies were based on responses to current events. Today, the term has evolved to incorporate personalized messaging delivered through a variety of interactive channels. Regardless, the core philosophy can be summed up as “delivering the right message, to the right person, at the right time.”
What is real-time customer engagement?
Real-time customer engagement is the practice of using contextually-relevant messaging to forge connections with users, reacting to their immediate intentions rather than attempting to predict them.
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There is some overlap between these definitions, but real-time marketing and real-time customer engagement emphasize different priorities. In their current forms, both practices utilize data collection, multi-channel messaging, and machine learning to better target customers.
As Solis elaborates, many marketing companies approach digital initiatives like traditional advertising channels: cast a wide net, attract broad audiences, and then attempt to convert them to your brand. While this can be done far more effectively with today’s technology, real-time engagement lets marketers skip the wide net in favor of direct interactions that reflect a customer’s immediate circumstances.
Even messaging from a perpetually active, real-time marketing channel doesn’t guarantee that customers will engage and convert. Real-time customer engagement emphasizes contextual relevance to interpret customer intent the moment before reacting to their needs.
How to build a real-time customer engagement strategy
According to a white paper from RedPoint Global, marketing organizations should ask the following questions to ensure they’re on the right customer experiences:
- What channels do they prefer?
- What devices do they use or prefer?
- What design choices resonate with them (color, size, style, flavor, genre, etc.)?
- What are their past behaviors that indicate intent?
- What messages or products resonate best at a given time or situation?
- What are their interests and demographics?
- Where are they in the buyer journey?
Once these answers are established, RedPoint also puts forward a model for translating your initial data into a customer engagement platform:
1. Collect an initial real-time dataset
No real-time platform, whether for customer engagement or traditional marketing, is effective without high-quality data. Brands need to collect data from all available sources — be it social media, browsing histories, loyalty plans, or any other channel — and manage it at scale. The more accurate and comprehensive your datasets are, the more capable your real-time customer engagement platform will be.
2. Launch real-time engagement pilots with a limited and focused scope
Start experimenting right away. Use the data at hand to launch pilot versions of personalized outbound campaigns. You should also use trigger marketing tactics to gain insights into how customers engage with your platform. Make a special note of any successful actions at this scale.
3. Apply pilot lessons from single-channel to multichannel messaging
Expand your scope. Continue to engage with customers on a multichannel basis. Use real-time inbound offers to engage online, in-store, or via call centers, and incorporate real-time outbound channels such as email, SMS, or push notifications.
4. Enhance real-time engagement strategies using machine learning and aggregated data analysis
Build on your real-time engagement strategies. Machine learning can automate customer recommendations, optimize the next best offer, and provide consistent messaging across your channels.
Real-time marketing and real-time customer engagement have quite a bit in common, especially in terms of targeted interactions and delivered messaging. The core difference between the two lies in the emphasis on context and user intent. By keeping these guiding principles in mind, brands and marketers will have a far greater chance of engaging and retaining a loyal, vibrant audience.